Archive | November, 2010

The Dance of Life and Death

30 Nov

There is an old expression that says life is hard, brutish and short and in Baja it is a fact of life.

Baja is a beautiful place, fairly sparsely populated and in a lot of ways still wild and untouched. Don’t get me wrong, there have been humans living here for hundreds of years, yet due to a scarcity of potable water, there have never been too many of them. It is a place of deserts, beaches, oceans, volcanos, and sheer, rocky crags and cliffs. Life is hard, at times very harsh and brutal and death can be up close and hard to ignore.

It is not at all unusual to see bones or desiccated copses of dogs, cows, horses or burros on the sides of the roads. These animals are allowed to wander freely here. The farm animals because it is the only way they can find enough food to sustain themselves. If they couldn’t forage in the wilds, the farmers otherwise couldn’t afford to keep them.  The highway offers green grass on it’s verges and at night the tarmac is warm so the animals come into the road to lie down. Some of them never get up again.
It is not just domestic animals that roam the wilds here. The Baja peninsula is a 1000 miles long, with mostly isolated and lonely beaches running it’s length, interspersed with small towns, fishing villages and settlements. Along it’s Pacific side the great Grey whales migrate every year to a place called Magdelena Bay, where they come to give birth. This is a huge shallow, warm, protected bay, almost completely surrounded by sandy barrier islands. From the time they leave the northern waters until they return, they don’t feed. Some don’t make it to the bay and others die on the return trip. Many of the small towns that survive on whale watching tourism, proudly display whole skeletons and massive vertebra that have been found washed ashore. It’s not unusual when walking the beaches to run across bones of whales, dolphins, sea lions and even turtles.

The pelicans daily search for food

Baja is separated from the mainland of Mexico by the Sea of Cortez. Here an amazing panoply of life is found, whales ranging from the world’s smallest to the largest, with thousands of different varieties of birds and fishes. It is here that we camp and look out over the waters. It is also here that we are constantly presented with the beauties of life and the swiftness of death.
Daily we watch the pelicans feeding, not 50 feet from our front windows. They do this by diving headfirst into the water at full speed, trying to catch small fish in their enlarged pouches. Probably 1 dive in 10 actually produces a meal. These birds look tough and capable but in actuality are rather delicate. All it takes is hitting the water at an awkward angle or an underwater obstacle and they damage their beaks beyond repair. This translates into a long slow death of starvation and we find many carcasses of bedraggled feather and bone on the shore.

beached Bryde's whale

As I said there are many varieties of whales here and last year we were subjected to the sight of one of these leviathans fighting it’s last battle. It was a Bryde’s whale (pronounced brew daa ) a small baleen feeder, about 40 feet, that had beached itself. It may have been old and it certainly was extraordinarily thin, with all it bones showing harshly beneath it’s skin. It was very difficult to stand there and watch while it slowly succumbed, but there was nothing any of us could do. Some did manage to push it off the beach but it could no longer swim and ended up right back on the beach again. Generally when whales beach it is because they can no longer fend for themselves and all our puny efforts were for naught. All we could do is wait for the inevitable end and then tow the carcass out to sea to forestall the rotting of quite a few tons of dead meat.

The last attempt to stand.

This year while standing talking to some friends, we saw what we took to be a small dog rolling in the sand behind our rig. After a few seconds it became apparent that it wasn’t a dog but a small, beautiful Kit fox having a seizure. Now Rabies is endemic here, but this lovely little creature wasn’t behaving as if it was infected with this dread disease. It looked well fed, and groomed and displayed none of the symptoms associated with Rabies. We though it had had a run in with a Rattlesnake of which there are many here as it was unaware, disoriented, and having multiple seizures. We left it alone in the shade, with a small dish of water nearby in hopes that it would over come whatever was affecting it. When we went to bed it had stood up and wandered into deeper shade, leaving us with the feeling that it might be alright in the morning. To our sorrow, it was in much worse shape when we went to check on it the next day, so we did all that we could do, we put it down as swiftly and as painlessly as we could and buried it where the Turkey vultures couldn’t get at it.
All of us on the beach find that death is so very much closer here than it is in the cities where we come from. It makes us all aware of how nature is a balancing act and how swiftly the scales can tilt. Perhaps the God Shiva really does do the cosmic dance of creation and destruction, life and death.


The trip south 2010

23 Nov

Bet you thought I was never going to post on here again didn’t you? Well, no such luck! We’ve been travelling. That’s right folks, we finally got away and headed south for the winter.
We shipped out on the Coho ferry, at 4PM on Monday, November 15th. That put us in Port Angeles at 5:30PM where we promptly found the new local Wal Mart and called it a night. Then up at the crack of dawn Tuesday morning, (well actually 8AM) and on the road. Off on to the I-5 and stopping only for food and sleeping, we crossed the Mexican/US border at 10AM on Friday. Sounds like we missed some really nasty weather!

Our last view of Victoria

I can’t say we enjoyed the trip through the States as the I-5 is in awful repair, especially through California. Most of the road is made of concrete slabs, so the wheels makes a kind of “thudump, thudump, thudump” sound constantly. Plus the slow lane, where we spend most of our time, is breaking up and falling apart and there are huge pot holes where the concrete slabs met. It was noisy, stressful and very hard on the suspension. As well, no matter how we try, we always seem to hit heavy L.A. traffic. There is nothing more terrifying than driving at 100 Km per hour on a 12 lane highway, with people who think nothing of crossing all 6 lanes right in front of you to exit as if they only just remembered where they wanted to go. Signalling appears to be very optional.

We went through Tijuana, this time instead of Tecate, as there is massive road work going on south of there. The crossing was fast, smooth and getting our Visa was much simpler. The Mexican Government has changed the rules, and a Visa is required as soon as you cross into Mexico. You didn’t used to need one until you entered Baja Sur, but as the saying goes, when in Rome….
We stopped only long enough in Ensenada (Spanish for cove) to pick up groceries then headed for the only RV park we stay in. A lovely, quiet spot just south of San Quintin, called El Pabellon,(Spanish for The Meeting Place). It’s on the Pacific Ocean and we can camp right on the beach. Plus the local fishermen use the beach for launching and landing their boats and catch. There’s nothing like absolutely fresh fish or our favourite, Stone Crab Claws. That’s right claws. Our friend Jose explains that they catch these crabs, break off one claw then put the crabs back as they will grow another one. Talk about a sustainable fishery! It’s two days of surf, sun, sand, seafood and quiet, then back on the road again.


San Quintin, miles of empty sand

Mmmm, Stone crab claws

Our next favourite spot in the Valle Los Cirios. This is a National protected area with some of the worlds strangest plants, the Cirios. You can see from the pictures that they are certainly different and they grown no where else on earth. They always look like upside down carrots designed by committee to me. This is when we really know we are in Baja. Here the Cardon cactus, a slightly smaller relative of the Giant Saguaro, starts to be seen in number along with many other kinds of cactus and Yuccas. We have to remind ourselves that from here on in, almost everything we see, is going to have spines of some form or another and we must be careful where we walk and what we touch!.

The Cirios trees. Strange looking aren't they?

We finally hit our favourite beach on Monday afternoon and no sooner had we come to a stop than our friends started to appear to welcome us back. We’ve already been invited for wine, yoga in the morning, kayaking to the islands and we haven’t even done our laundry yet. Wow, back into the social whirl that’s  Rattlesnake Beach.
So enough for now, suffice to say we’re here, we’re safe and we’re looking to have some fun!
Hasta Luego!

Mmmmm, I can taste it already!

9 Nov

Well, after being stuck here for more than 6 weeks longer than we would normally stay, we’re just a week away from leaving. Both of us have lists of things we need to pick up here, that are either not available in Mexico or so difficult to find that it’s not worth the aggravation. Oil filters for the Grummy, brown rice, our favourite coffee, even vitamins and prescriptions. Yes, most medications are available down there without a prescription but if you’re on a rarely prescribed medication, like I am, or have a specific milligram size you have to take, like Richard, you may find yourself in some difficulty, so it never hurts to be prepared. Oh, and just so you know narcotics require a prescription down there just as they do here.

Our winter destination, Rattlesnake Beach.

While we’re prepping, we’re longing for real Mexican cooked food. Not to say that I haven’t learned a thing or two while there. I have made it a point to ask how to make certain dishes and to watch the experts whenever the opportunity has presented itself. Both of us have noticed that the more often we travel to Mexico, the more heat in our food we can stand. When we first started our travelling, one Jalapeno in an entire dish was good enough to satisfy us. Now though, if it doesn’t have at least a Serrano in it, it’s just not spicy enough. Hell, I’ve even found I enjoy eating the roast Jalapenos that most restaurants serve with their appetizer dishes.
One of our all time favourites dishes is tacos. Yeah, I know that sounds trite, but real Mexican tacos bear no resemblance to what we get up here.First off, the tortillas are all fresh, hand made, plentiful and cheap. Every town, regardless as to size, has at least one Tortilleria. This is the store were most Mexicans buy their daily tortillas, and they eat them with virtually every meal. A kilo of 4 inch, fresh, flour or corn tortillas is worth about 10 pesos, 85 cents, give or take exchange rates.
When you walk into any Baja taco restaurant, the first thing they put on the table will be an appetizer plate, consisting of roasted Jalapenos, pickled red onions, Pico de Gallo, cubed limes and sliced field cucumbers.The cucumber is first covered in lime juice, then salt and eaten at any time during the meal. It’s one of those local things that you only find when you travel and Richard and I just love it. We have introduced it to all our relatives and friends and they all enjoy it as well. The only problem up here is we can’t get the small, sour limes that are plentiful down there and regular limes are just not the right flavour. We’ve found bags of Key Limes available here, they’re expensive, but what the hell, good food requires good ingredients right? Also included with the appetizers might be a root vegetable called a Jicama. This resembles a beige turnip, but once peeled and sliced, it’s white flesh is sweet, crunchy and remarkably refreshing.  It can be eaten with the lime and salt or simply on it’s own, but it is hard to find here, and  doesn’t seem to travel well. If it’s got bruises or a little rot on the outside, DO NOT BUY IT! The flavour will reflect the rot.

Now here’s  all the ingredients and instructions to make real Mexican Beef Tacos or Tacos Carne.
PICO DE GALLO or Fresh Salsa

Tomatoes, minus the pulp and seeds, cube into very small pieces. Roma tomatoes work very well

Sweet White onion. finely chopped

Jalapeno or Serrano peppers, finely chopped, one unless you want it really spicy

Cilantro, finely chopped

Juice of quarter of a lime

Mix together and let stand for a couple of hours to allow the tastes to blend.

Pica De Gallo

You won’t need expensive beef but DO NOT USE GROUND. Real Beef tacos use chunks of meat, so pick up a small piece of chuck, hanger steak or outside round and cut into small 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch cubes. You won’t need more than about 1/2 pound for 2 people.Mix with..

2 tablespoons of Cumin powder

1 teaspoon of Montreal Steak Spice

Mix together, cover and place in fridge till ready to cook.
Prepare all the other ingredients that are part of a good taco. Any or all of the following are perfectly acceptable..
Lettuce, finely shredded

Cheese, either Cheddar or Monterey Jack, grated

Sour cream

Sweet Onion, cubed

Any type of cooked salsa that you prefer

Limes, quartered

Field Cucumbers, peeled and sliced

Tortillas need to be warmed and the best way to accomplish this is to lay them into a dry frying pan until they become limp, turn and place into a tortilla warmer. Don’t let them stay too long as they will become hard and unpalatable.Once the tortillas are ready, cook the beef, until just brown, a little rare is OK.
Place all the dishes on the table and show everyone how to make a real Mexican taco. Beef first, not a lot, just enough to make a line on the taco. Next add cheese and sour cream if you want them, then lettuce, the Pico De Gallo, then top off with a little cooked salsa. Mexicans only roll their tacos, they don’t fold in the ends, but if want to, go right ahead.


Beef Taco dinner for two

Round off the meal with the plate of Cukes, limes and salt, or Jicama if you’ve managed to find some.
And if you want to drink a few Margaritas with dinner, please, be my guest!


The past is a mirror to tomorrow!

1 Nov

Wow, cool title eh? I thought it sounded pretty catchy and in a lot of ways, it describes Richard and I to a T.

So I guess it’s time to introduce ourselves and give you some background which will also give you some insight into what we do now.

We both seem to have travelled a great deal during our formative years, though in different ways. My family moved to Vancouver in 1959, driving from southern Ontario before the Trans Canada Highway was built. Then every 2 years we drove back out to visit, trying to take a different route every time. I can’t tell you  how often I’ve been across the US and Canada. My Father was also a fanatic  fisherman and because my sisters had no interest, I became my Dad’s fishing buddy. As often as he could, my Dad loaded up the car and boat and we would hit the ocean or a lake somewhere in the hinterlands of BC.

Richard’s childhood consisted of little boats, sailboats,  and airplanes. His father was a pilot and half owner of a series of small planes and so at any given time would pack up one or another of the kids and head off anywhere they could reach.

At the time we met, Richard had been home 6 months, and was already working for the Canadian Coast Guard, having spent the previous 2 years in Europe and Israel. I had been struggling with a failing business after spending 2 years in Canada’s western Arctic, and was contemplating joining the Canadian Navy. We were destined to meet, when a friend of my parents, mentioned a really great job opportunity available with the  Coast Guard, which had recently gone co-ed. Having expenses to repay due to the failure of my store, and at loose ends, I took him up on the offer. I had discovered that woman recruits, regardless as to rank achieved, were not allowed to serve regularly on Naval ships and that’s what I wanted, to go to sea. The Coast Guard would give me that opportunity.

CCGS Vancouver

The job I was being offered, was as deck crew on the CCGS Quadra, a Canadian Coast Guard Weathership.  The weatherships,( there were 2 of them, the Vancouver and the Quadra) were purpose built ships designed to fill a niche in meteorology, oceanography, national defense, and safety at sea. Built in the Burrard Dry Docks in Vancouver, they were 414 feet long,  50 feet wide and drafted 17.5 feet, with a crew compliment of about 80. In our time there were 10 women and 70 men.

The ships were based out of Esquimalt and operated in rotation, with seven weeks at sea (one spent steaming to and from station) and five at home, and  there was always a ship on Station. That station was  Station ‘P’  for “Peter” or  as it was later known”Papa”, Canada’s exclusive weather station at 50°N, 145°W. The ships were required to maintain a presence  on station which was approximately 900 miles west from Vancouver, over waters 4220 meters deep. Station “Papa”, was continuously occupied from  December 1949 till June 1981.Weather stations had been designated at various positions throughout both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the positions chosen so as to fill the gaps where there were no shipping lanes and from where no weather reports came.

All of the original weatherstations

So I can hear you all saying, “well, that sounds like a pretty good job!” and you’d be right, but it was also the most stressful, difficult and terrifying job I’ve ever had, but neither one of us would have given up a second of it.

Off to the interview I went for this “great job”, on the ship itself. That went very well, and my Mom and Dad  who had offered to drive me, were waiting for me in the Mess. Sitting with them was this slim, red headed, gorgeous man with hair down to his waist, talking to them. When I walked through the door they all turned and looked at me. Now, I’ve never been a believer in love at first sight and even now I’m not sure I do, but I knew Richard was the man for me the second I laid eyes on him, and I told my Mother as we drove away, “I don’t know who that guy is but I’m going to marry him!” She laughed.

Now, try to imagine going to work in an office building, or a store, along with all the people you work with, and when you get there, they close the doors and don’t open them again for 7 weeks (147 days).   They feed you well, and there’s lots of food available, but you work 4 hour shifts, 8 off, 4 on, every day. Every day! For 7 weeks! You sleep in a cot just big enough to fit you, raised up on one side so you’re cradled against the wall, in  a room that might be 10×10 feet square, along with a sink, a small porthole that may or may not open, a desk,  a setee, and a ceiling to floor closet. Not even enough room to swing a cat! Try to imagine 20 people singing, dancing and drinking in a room this size.( It can be done, but that’s a story for when I know you better). On top of that, make the floor never stop moving, sometimes very violently.  This was the romantic background to the start of our relationship and love affair. Don’t you wish you’d been there?

Station Papa, Out in the middle of nowhere!

Station “Papa”, was an active storm area, where 20 foot swells, an overcast sky, and the wind blowing at a sultry 20 knots (23 miles per hour for those of you who don’t have a nautical bent)  was considered to be a calm day. We had winds in excess of  120 km per hour  many times, a couple of times hitting Category 3  hurricane winds, that’s over 200 km per hour!  There’s nothing like trying to walk when the path you’re  following is constantly changing, from uphill to down hill and back again, while at the same time, rolling from side to side, rapidly. The ship was kept on station, meaning we couldn’t move more than 100km away from the actual marked spot on the water. While there, scientific tests were run, and ship maintenance was constant, both in the engine room and on deck. We spent our time trying to survive whatever nature threw at us, and overcoming feelings of isolation and depression. This was accomplished by working, fishing, watching movies in the crews mess, partying, drinking and since it was the 70’s, smoking a lot of pot.Oh and did I mention partying? We did a lot of that! It was a lot of fun but it was also deadly serious. Storms were always a major danger and there were a few times when all talk turned to how to survive if the ship rolled over. Every rookie was told not to worry, land was only 2 miles away……straight down! On at least one occasion, the ship rolled so far over that all of us on the bridge, including the Second Officer were sure she couldn’t right herself. It seemed like hours while we stood there and watched the gauges, and I can’t tell you just how relieved we all were, when she finally stood back up.

Amid all of that, Richard and I nurtured a relationship that started the day we met. We discovered we had a great many interests in common and shared the same outlook on life, the universe and everything. (If you’ve ever read Douglas Adams, you’ll understand that last sentence.)

We spent 18 months on that ship, and at the end of it, we got married, in April of 1979.

We’ve been together ever since! Not bad for a relationship that survived the  stormiest of weather, eh?

Sorry, couldn’t help myself…..

Talk to you soon!